Tuesday, March 24, 2009

China Sees Opportunity Where Others See Risk


China has agreed to build several power plants in Pakistan to help the South Asian nation deal with its worsening electricity crisis. When completed over the next several years, these plants, including Nandipur (425 MW, Thermal), Guddu(800 MW, Thermal) and Neelam-Jhelum(1000 MW, Hydro), Chashma (1200 MW, Nuclear) will add more than 3000 MW of power generating capacity for the energy-hungry country. Pakistan is currently facing a deficit of 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts, resulting in extensive load-shedding (rolling blackouts) of several hours a day.

China has already installed a 325-megawatt nuclear power plant (C1) at Chashma and is currently working on another (C2) of the same capacity that is expected to be online by 2010. The agreements for C3 and C4 have also been signed. The United States has objected to China supplying C3 and C4 on the grounds that any Pak-China nuclear cooperation would require consensus approval by the NSG, of which China is now a member, for any exception to the guidelines. The US is applying double standards since it supported and got approval for such an exception from NSG for its own nuclear deal with India.

Under another agreement, China has agreed to invest about $600 million for setting up an integrated coal mining-cum-power project in Sindh. The project will produce 180 million tons of coal per year, which is sufficient to fuel the proposed 405 MW power plant. Pakistan is currently world's seventh largest coal-producing country, with coal reserves of more than 185 billion tons (second in the world after U.S.A.'s 247 billion tons). Almost all (99 percent) of Pakistan's coal reserves are found in the province of Sindh. Pakistan's largest coal field is Thar coal field which is spread over an area of 9100 square kilometers, and contains 175 billion tons of coal. So far this coal field has not been developed but efforts are underway.

The Export-Import Bank of China will lead the multi-national bank financing and China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation (Sinosure) will provide political risk and credit default insurance for the first 425 MW project at Nanipur, Gujranwala estimated to cost $329m, according to Associated Press of Pakistan. Other participating banks include BNP-Paribas, HSBC Bank plc, and CIC France. The lead contractor is China's Dongfang Electric Corporation Limited, with G.E. France as a sub-contractor.



Political risk has been rising in many developing nations, including the South Asian nations of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (see 2008 political risk map). The cost of insurance against political and economic risk has also been going up, as the global economic crisis unfolds. Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. has recently rated India as the riskiest of 14 Asian countries, not including Pakistan and Afghanistan, it analyzed for 2009.

With their national coffers bulging and their exports driven economy slowing, the Chinese see opportunity in the developing world where others see political and economic risks. It is an opportunity for China to assure the continuing availability of raw materials and oil for its growing industries and to diversify its export markets. In addition to helping bail out the ailing US economy, China is using some of its vast cash reserves of $2 trillion to offer supplier financing as well as insurance for the non-Chinese partners to cover political and credit risk in the emerging markets. With bilateral trade volume of about $7 billion, Pakistan is only one example of Chinese interest. Others include politically-risky Afghanistan, and many nations of Sub-Saharan Africa where the Chinese are financing and building major infrastructure projects. In Afghanistan, China has committed nearly $2.9 billion to develop the Aynak copper field, including the infrastructure that must be built with it such as a power station to run the operation and a railroad to haul the tons of copper it hopes to extract. The Aynak project is the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan to date, according to Reuters. The trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year.

Looking at how the Chinese are working with many developing nations in Asia and Africa, it appears to be an unwritten Chinese policy to offer trade and investment in projects rather than direct cash aid. Given the rampant government corruption in many developing nations, including Pakistan, the Chinese policy is a sound one. It attempts to benefit the people and the nation more than the corrupt politicians and government officials who they must deal with.

In terms of Chinese dominance in power infrastructure development, one only needs to look at the heavy Chinese presence in the Indian power sector development. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese companies are now supplying equipment for about 25% of the new power capacity India is adding to its grid, up from almost nothing a few years ago. They have sent thousands of skilled workers to Indian plant sites, some of which boast Chinese chefs, Chinese television and ping pong.

Clearly, the Chinese objectives are not entirely altruistic. Their strategy is driven by enlightened self-interest in the developing world, which they see as source of commodities that their industries need as well as growing export market for their products and services. But the Chinese want to do good and do well at the same time by helping to lift people out of poverty in the developing world. By doing so, they want to be seen as friends and partners by the people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The strategy enhances China's status as the new superpower that takes its global leadership role seriously.

Related Links:

Chinese Do Good and Do well in Developing World

World's Largest Solar Deals

Pakistan Inks Neelum-Jhelum Deal

Political Risk Insurance

Political and Economic Risk Consultancy

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Forget Chinindia! It's Chimerica to the Rescue!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

World Water Day: Water Scarcity Hurting Pakistan


More than a billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, a basic necessity, on World Water Day today. In Pakistan alone, 38.5 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 50.7 million people lack access to improved sanitation, according to published data. Pakistanis are facing unprecedented shortage of clean drinking water and electricity due to the lowest recorded levels of water in the country's dams, according to Pakistani Meteorological Department. The mortality rate for children under-five in Pakistan is 99 deaths per 1000 children, according to Global Health Council. About half of under-five deaths occur in six countries with large populations: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan and China. Water and sanitation related diseases are responsible for 60% of the total number of child mortality cases in Pakistan, with diarrheal diseases causing deaths of 200,000 under-five years’ children, every year. Unsafe drinking water is shown to lead to poverty through time spent by women and girls to fetch ‘drinkable’ water from long distances. The combination of unsafe water consumption and poor hygiene practices require treatments for water borne illnesses, decreased working days, and also contribute to lowering of educational achievement due to reduced school attendance by children.

It is sad to see the growing water crisis in Pakistan whose Indus Valley has been the center of some of the world’s greatest civilizations: Harappa and Mohenjo Daro (2600 to 1900 BC) and Gandhara, (1st-5th Centuries AD); their social, agricultural and economic systems were based on their interactions with rivers (Indus and its tributaries, including the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and Kabul rivers, etc.) which provided irrigation and created fertile land for farming. Archaeologists believe that people of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa lived in sturdy brick houses that had as many as three floors. The houses had bathrooms that were connected to sewers. Their elaborate drainage system was centuries ahead of their time. A well established history, tradition and system of water management and entitlements has existed, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the 1960 Indus Water Treaty and the 1991 Water Accord which establish clear entitlements for each province and for each canal command to surface waters.

There is a severe water shortage looming in Pakistan. According to a 2006 World Bank report, it is fast moving from being a “water stressed country to a water scarce country”, mainly due to its high population growth, and water is becoming the key development issue. The groundwater is over-exploited and polluted in many areas; most of the water infrastructure (even some of the major barrages) is in poor repair; the entire system of water management is not financially sustainable. However, large parts of Pakistan have good soils, sunshine and excellent farmers; it can get much more value from the existing flows.

Among the 25 most populous countries in 2009, South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan are the most water-limited nations. India and China, however, are not far behind with per capita renewable water resources of only 1600 and 2100 cubic meters per person per year. Major European countries have up to twice as much renewable water resources per capita, ranging from 2300 (Germany) to 3000 (France) cubic meters per person per year. The United States of America, on the other hand, has far greater renewable water resources than China, India or major European countries: 9800 cubic meters per person per year. By far the largest renewable water resources are reported from Brazil and the Russian Federation - with 31900 and 42500 cubic meters per person per year.

According to the United Nations' World Water Development Report, the total actual renewable water resources in Pakistan decreased from 2,961 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1,420 cubic meters in 2005. A more recent study indicates an available supply of water of little more than 1,000 cubic meters per person, which puts Pakistan in the category of a high stress country. Using data from the Pakistan's federal government's Planning and Development Division, the overall water availability has decreased from 1,299 cubic meters per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 cubic meters in 2004-05. In view of growing population, urbanization and increased industrialization, the situation is likely to get worse. If the current trends continue, it could go as lows as 550-cubic meters by 2025. Nevertheless, excessive mining of groundwater goes on. Despite a lowering water table, the annual growth rate of electric tubewells has been indicated to 6.7% and for diesel tubewells to about 7.4%. In addition, increasing pollution and saltwater intrusion threaten the country's water resources. About 36% of the groundwater is classified as highly saline.

In urban areas, most water is supplied from groundwater except for the cities of Karachi, Hyderabad and a part of Islamabad, where mainly surface water is used. In most rural areas, groundwater is used. In rural areas with saline groundwater, irrigation canals serve as the main source of domestic water.

Out of the 169,384 billion cubic meters of water which were withdrawn since 2000, 96% were used for agricultural purposes, leaving 2% for domestic and another 2% for industrial use. By far most water is used for irrigated agriculture. With the world's largest contiguous irrigation system, Pakistan has harnessed the Indus River to transform 35.7 million acres for cultivation in otherwise arid conditions. Yet,the sector contributes less than 20% of the Pakistan's GDP and Pakistan remains a food-deficit nation.

In sharp contrast to the peaks of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas at the headwaters of the Indus River, the Indus valley plain flattens out dramatically as it runs to the sea.

The very low rainfall, poor drainage, ancient marine deposits, saline groundwater, and evaporation and transpiration combine to create a vast salt sink.
The steady expansion of irrigation and agriculture added greatly to this process of accumulating salt that over time waterlogging and soil salinity have emerged to threaten the sustainability of Pakistan’s agricultural system.

Pakistan is currently experiencing water stress and will soon face outright water scarcity. High population growth is causing ‘water stress.’ Pakistan is using almost all its water resources today and no more are available. If something goes drastically wrong with the salt/sediment/water balance of the Indus system, there is no other river system in the region to draw on.

A World Bank report recommends that Pakistan needs to set up new water reservoirs on an urgent basis, citing scarcity of water to get worse in the near future.

The aging and inadequate irrigation and water infrastructure deficit alone is estimated at US $70 billion. Pakistan needs to invest almost US $1 billion per year in new large dams and related infrastructure over the next five years.

According to the World Bank data, Pakistan only stores 30 days of river water, India stores 120 days, while the Colorado River System in the US has storage capacity of up to 900 days of water usage. The report says that new water reservoirs will push Pakistan’s economy forward. It says that a new dam can potentially add four to five percent to Pakistan’s GDP.

Water is also essential for power generation in Pakistan, but only about 20% is generated by hydroelectric power plants. The current power shortage of approximately 2,000 megawatts will increase to 6,000 megawatts by the year 2010 and 30,700 megawatts by the year 2020. Pakistan has the potential to generate as much as 50,000 MW of hydroelectric power, more than twice its total current generating capacity of 20,000 MW from all sources, which is far short of the nation's needs, limiting Pakistan's social and economic growth prospects.

In addition to the development of new water reservoirs, serious conservation steps need to be taken to improve the efficiency of water use in Pakistani agriculture which claims almost all of the available fresh water resources. A California study recently found that water use efficiency ranged from 60%-85% for surface irrigation to 70%-90% for sprinkler irrigation and 88%-90% for drip irrigation. Potential savings would be even higher if the technology switch were combined with more precise irrigation scheduling and a partial shift from lower-value, water-intensive crops to higher-value, more water-efficient crops. Rather than flood irrigation used in Pakistani agriculture, there is a need to explore the use of drip or spray irrigation to make better use of nation's scarce water resources before it is too late. As a first step toward improving efficiency, Pakistan government has launched a 1.3 billion U.S. dollar drip irrigation program that could help reduce water waste over the next five years. Early results are encouraging. "We installed a model drip irrigation system here that was used to irrigate cotton and the experiment was highly successful. The cotton yield with drip irrigation ranged 1,520 kg to 1,680 kg per acre compared to 960 kg from the traditional flood irrigation method," according to Wajid Ishaq, a junior scientist at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB).

Beyond the urgent need for improving farm water use efficiency, Pakistan must address the safety of drinking water to improve the health of its people. It must take steps to protect its water streams from industrial pollution and sewage discharge. Along with various international institutions and NGOs, the leadership should undertake projects that will help in providing hygiene and sanitation promotion and community mobilization along with extensive capacity building in order to complement Pakistan's substantial investments in hardware for safe drinking water. A big part of it is education, followed by practical assistance to communities in setting up better sewage treatment and waste disposal systems that are locally supported by cities and towns.

The Medium Term Development Framework 2005-2010 provides for about US$404 million per year government spending for water supply and sanitation projects and is accompanied by several policy documents with the objective to notably improve water and sanitation coverage and quality. Availability of clean water in reasonable abundance is essential for sustaining life and improving the future of the people of Pakistan. The challenges are great and the stakes are very high. Failure is not an option.

But the challenges of poor sanitation are too big and complex to expect Pakistani government alone to deal with them. The nation's private sector and NGOs must rise to the occasion. There are successful examples of private citizens addressing sanitation issues on a local, community level. For instance, Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan is the force behind Orangi Pilot Project to help residents of Orangi Town, a katchi abadi (shanty town) in Karachi to help themselves. It has assisted in a number of projects to build better low-cost housing, improve sanitation and establish schools with the participation of the community. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Acclaimed social scientist Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan used to reference this well-known proverb (according to his son, Akbar Khan), as it quite fittingly represents his philosophy on community development.

While the problems faced by Pakistan are huge, I believe that a serious and organized initiative by a tiny percentage of Pakistan's large middle class of at least 40-50m people can begin to make a difference. Pakistanis owe it to themselves and their poor brethren to step up and take responsibility for improving the situation of the most vulnerable citizens of their country. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But we must persevere by taking one step after another until we see results.

Here's a video clip on safe drinking water:



Sources/Related Links:

United Nations World Water Development Report

Water Resource Management in Pakistan

Water Supply and Sanitation in Pakistan

Light a Candle, Do Not Curse Darkness

China Profile

Safe Drinking water and Hygiene Promotion in Pakistan

UN Millennium Development Goals in Pakistani Village

Orangi Pilot Project

Three Cups of Tea

Volunteerism in America

Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan's Vision

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Auto Industry in China, India and Pakistan

Tata Motors is set to launch its low-cost Nano minicar Monday, March 23, according to media reports from India. With a starting price of about $1,945, which doesn't include dealer markup and other charges that consumers will pay, the Nano will be one of the world's cheapest cars. This product launch comes at a time when the auto industry is facing a severe downturn, attributed to the worldwide consumer credit crunch amidst a serious global financial crisis.

Like other auto makers around the world, Tata Motors is also contending with declining demand, both for its bread-and-butter commercial vehicles in India and its luxury brands, Jaguar and Land Rover. The company reported its first quarterly net loss in seven years in the October-December 2008 quarter, and saw its debt rating cut by ratings firms. More immediately, Tata Motors faces a June deadline to repay $2 billion in loans related to its Jaguar-Land Rover acquisition from Ford Motor Co. last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The automobile industry in India—the tenth largest in the world with an annual output of 2 million units last year—is expected to become one of the major global automotive industries in the future. A number of domestic companies produce automobiles in India and the growing presence of multinational investment, too, has led to an increase in overall growth. Following the economic reforms of 1991 the Indian automotive industry has demonstrated sustained growth as a result of increased competitiveness and reduced restrictions. The monthly sales of passenger cars in India exceed 100,000 units, according to a related Wikipedia entry.

In comparison with the rest of the world, the Chinese market for automobiles appears to be relatively robust. Monthly auto sales in China surpassed those in the U.S. for the first time in January, but automakers and industry watchers say the news may tell us more about the troubles in the U.S. than about China's growing car market, says a report published in San Francisco Chronicle.

Data released in February by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers shows 735,000 new cars were sold in China last month, down 14.4 percent from the record of 860,000 set in January 2008. U.S. sales, meanwhile, fell 37 percent to 656,976 vehicles — a 26-year low.

In Pakistan, Engineering Development Board (EDB) is attempting to increase the GDP contribution of the automotive sector to 5.6%, boost car production capacity to half a million units as well as attract an investment of US$ 3 billion and reach an auto export target of US$ 650 million.

In addition to the growing defense industry, auto industry can become a driving force for the much needed manufacturing industrial base in Pakistan to create significant employment opportunities for its large population. Last year, the auto sector contributed US$ 3.6 billion, only about 2% of the GDP, to the national economy, and employed about 192,000 people.

Pakistan's auto parts manufacturing is a billion US dollars a year industry. Sixty percent of its output goes to the motor cycle industry, 22% is for cars, and the rest is consumed by trucks, buses & tractors.

After a significant growth spurt in 2002-2006, the auto sector is feeling the pain of economic slow-down in Pakistan. The industry is continuing in a slump which began in the previous financial year and according to Business Monitor International's recently published Pakistan Automotives Report, the industry’s performance this year will get worse. In FY08, which ended in June 2008, total vehicle sales fell by 6.2%. The downturn carried over into FY09, with sales for the first half of the year (July to December 2008) down by 48% year-on-year to 52,927 units for cars and light commercial vehicles (LCVs), while compared with November, sales for December were down 55%. These results support BMI’s forecast for a drop in sales of cars and LCVs to around 112,000 units in FY09. BMI expects the total auto market in Pakistan to contract by over 32%, with the worst damage done in the car and bus segments, which is forecast to fall by 45% each. Pakistan’s Economic Co-ordination Committee (ECC) is to consider a tax cut of 10% for domestic car manufacturers, which has been proposed by the Ministry of Industries and Production. However, the plan is not without its opposition, as the Federal Board of Revenue is reportedly against supporting individual sectors as this would prompt other industries to seek help. Moreover, with just five carmakers producing locally, the automotive industry is relatively small. On the other hand, the industry is also largely self-sufficient as the majority of its output is sold within Pakistan; this reduces the country’s reliance on imports and raises issues such as the protection of local jobs and the industry’s contribution to the overall economy.

Pakistan Tractor Sales. Source: Trading Economics


Among the automakers, Indus Motors and Pakistan Suzuki reported positive earnings: The two leading car assemblers PSMC and INDUS posted positive earnings for 2008. PSMC reported operating losses of Rs 399 million. However, increase in other income by 77 percent offset their losses helping PSMC post positive earnings of Rs 26 million, according to Daily Times. Honda posted a loss after tax of Rs 190 million for the period July-December 2008 after a decline in net sales by 5 percent and a massive surge in operating expenses over the corresponding period last year.

The poor state of the industry is reflected in BMI’s Business Environment Rating for the automotive industry in Asia Pacific, where Pakistan is in last place on a score of 42.4 out of a possible 100. The market is held back by low production growth potential and an average rating for sales growth. However, as a signatory to the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the country’s regulatory environment scores well. A number of free trade agreements also contribute to this criterion, although forming FTAs with non-Asian countries would improve this rating further. Despite low marks for bureaucracy and corruption, the market does score well for its long-term economic risk and policy continuity.

With just a handful of manufacturers, Pakistan’s competitive landscape remains narrow. Japanese car manufacturers control most of the country’s passenger car production and sales. Figures for FY08 show that Suzuki-brand models represented 62% of total Pakistani passenger car production and 51.7% of sales. Toyota is gaining, however, with Corolla becoming the country’s best-selling model in the first half of FY09.

According to Daily Times, as many as 60,000 workers and staffers in Pakistan's auto sector have lost their jobs from July, 2008 to January, 2009 due to falling demand for cars. More jobs cuts are feared with continuing weakness in demand.

Given strong underlying growth dynamics in South Asia, the negative feedback effects of the global financial crisis are expected to be temporary. A relatively rapid rebound is expected in 2010, with a projected revival of GDP growth to 7.2 per cent. The long term prospects for the auto industry in the continent of Asia appear to be quite favorable. As the current financial crisis ebbs, there will be significant pent-up demand for automobiles in Asia, including India, Pakistan and China, that will drive the growth in auto industry.

Related Links:

Pakistan Automobiles Report 2009

Auto Pakistan Expo 2009

Automobile Technology in Pakistan

A Review of Global Road Accident Fatalities

Pakistan Automotive Report

China Surpasses US in Auto Sales

Auto Industry in India

India's Global Shopping Spree

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Beware of Schumer's AIG Bonus Outrage


"If you don't return it on your own, we will do it for you," Senator Charles E. Schumer warned the AIG bonus recipients, as he joined in the public outrage against AIG's executive bonuses of $165 million. After receiving $170b in US taxpayer money, AIG announced these scandalous bonuses for their executives in the financial products unit which sold derivatives that cratered the company and the entire financial system.

The grandstanding by the senator from Wall Street, as Mr. Schumer is known because of his close links to the financial services industry, seems to be designed to deflect public anger and scrutiny from the real scandal and the main culprits of collapse of AIG and other financial institutions--the politicians in Washington. For years, as the Wall Street cheerleader on Capitol Hill, the senator joined his other corrupt colleagues in preventing any regulation of the financial weapons of mass destruction such as credit default swaps (CDS) and collaterlized debt obligations (CDO) in exchange for millions of dollars in campaign contribution from Wall Street.

Mr. Schumer led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the last four years, raising a record $240 million while increasing donations from Wall Street by 50 percent, according to the New York Times. That money helped the Democrats gain power in Congress, elevated Mr. Schumer’s standing in his party and increased the industry’s clout in the capital.

Schumer gathered support and donations by embracing the industry’s free-market, deregulatory agenda more than almost any other Democrat in Congress, even backing measures now blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.

While other lawmakers took the lead on efforts like deregulating the complicated financial instruments called derivatives, it was Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, who repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows. Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees, according to the New York Times.

On the nature of deregulated credit default swaps (CDS) that caused the collapse of AIG and financial markets, a recent CBS 60 Minutes segment explained, "In retrospect, giving Wall Street immunity from state gambling laws and legalizing activity that had been banned for most of the 20th century should have given lawmakers pause, but on the last day and the last vote of the lame duck 106th Congress, Wall Street got what it wanted when the Senate passed the bill unanimously." Though CNN has only picked Senator Phil Gramm as one its top 10 Culprits of Collapse, the entire US Congress shares responsibility for it.

The American people need to put the AIG bonus issue in proper perspective to channelize their genuine and deep anger and resentment against the corrupt political-industrial elite who are the real culprits of collapse. The bonus amount of $165m is an extremely tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars of losses in retirement savings and home values suffered by Americans because of the Wall Street misdeeds, committed with the collaboration of Schumer and his fellow politicians in Washington. It's also a small fraction of the tens of billions of dollars of US aid for Israel, the biggest recipient of US aid, that Sen. Schumer continues to champion as a staunch supporter of Israel on the Hill. The anger of the nation in severe distress should be used to force reforms in Washington. The first steps toward serious reform should include grassroots campaign for major curbs on political campaign contributions by the lobbyists followed by an open, public trial of Senators Charles Schumer, Chris Dodds, Phil Gram and their Democratic and Republican colleagues on the US Senate's Finance and Banking Committees to hold them to account.

Related Links:

Buffet Warns of Financial weapons of Mass Destruction

Will American Capitalism Survive?

China's Nuclear Option

Senator Schumer: The Champion of Wall Street on the Hill

Pay to Play is the Name of the Game in Washington

Are Jews Culprits of Collapse on Wall Street?

Keynes on Jews

Democrats and Republicans Share Blame for Financial Collapse

Jewish Network in US Congress

Jewish Power Dominates at Vanity Fair

Jewish Power Grows in US Congress

Did Schumer and Emanuel Sink Freeman?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Global Slowdown Hits Foreign Workers Hard


As the global economic crisis continues to take its toll in US, Europe, Middle East and East Asia, South Asian workers overseas are being let go in large numbers

Faced with rising unemployment in Malaysia, the Kuala Lumpur government on Tuesday said it will reduce the number of foreign workers in the country to 1.8 million by 2010 from the present over two million. This decision has serious implications for tens of thousands of South Asians, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, who currently work in the island nation.

Malaysian minister Syed Hamid Albar said the authorities had managed to reduce the number of foreign workers by 60,000 since last March, according to media reports. Last week, the minister ordered the cancellation of 55,000 visas granted to Bangladeshis in 2007, eliciting protests from Bangladesh.

Though reliable unemployment figures are hard to find in the United Arab Emirates, there is evidence to suggest that joblessness is rapidly growing in the Gulf region. Dubai police have found at least 3,000 automobiles -- sedans, SUVs, regulars -- abandoned outside Dubai International Airport in the last four months. Police say most of the vehicles had keys in the ignition, a clear sign they were left behind by owners in a hurry to take flight. It is believed that the owners of these vehicles are mostly foreign workers from South Asia who have lost their jobs after Dubai's real estate crash, according to a DNA report.

As unemployment surges around the world due to the global economic crisis, the South Asian nations relying on large remittances from their nationals overseas will be particularly hit hard.

The United States government announced that employers cut another 651,000 jobs last month, driving unemployment up to 8.1 percent. Job losses in December and January were even higher than previously reported. There is anecdotal evidence that many of those losing jobs in IT and high-tech sector are H1-B visa holders. Laid-off foreign workers are scrambling for temporary visas and seeking advice from immigration attorneys about how long they can legally stay in the country while hunting for jobs.

In Asia, in China, the urban unemployment rate officially stands at 4.2 percent. However, the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists says it is closer to 9.4 percent. In China, rural unemployment is not measured because of the difficulty of doing so.

Also in Asia, in Japan, unemployment hit 4.4 percent by the end of 2008, rising at its fastest rate in 42 years. Growing lines at food banks have been one result.

In India, unemployment officially stands at 8.2 percent. However, that number is thought to largely reflect unemployment in the organized sector of the economy, which comprises just 10 percent of the country’s workforce.

In Africa, in South Africa, economists expressed “surprise” as the unemployment rate fell to 21.9 percent at the end of last year, down from 23.2 percent several months earlier.

In Europe, unemployment in Germany stands at 8.5 percent, and in Britain, it is 6.1 percent, the highest in ten years.

In Latin America, Mexico’s unemployment rate is 4.3 percent. However, anyone in Mexico who is 14 years or older and who has worked one hour a week is considered “employed.”

Until recently, the general deterioration in regional trade balances in South Asia has been offset by large remittance inflows, which represent a sizable, and generally increasing share of GDP: during 2007, 14 per cent in Nepal, 8 per cent in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, 4 per cent in Pakistan, and 3 per cent in India. The rising unemployment among South Asian workers overseas threatens this all-important lifeline, particularly in Bangladesh, Sri Lanks and Nepal.

According to the latest estimates of the World Bank, almost 40 percent of 107 developing countries are highly exposed to the poverty effects of the current economic crisis, less than 10 percent face little risk and the remainder are moderately exposed. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan are ranked among the 43 countries most exposed to poverty risks, raising the horrible specter of further political instability and dangerous social strife in a very important region of the world.


Related Links:

Malaysia Pulls Visas for 55,000 Bangladeshi Workers

Unemployment surges around the world

South Asian Exodus from Dubai

World Economy Worst in Sixty Years

Global Economic Crisis and Growing Poverty Risks

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chinese Do Good and Do Well in Developing World


The world's GDP in 2009 will shrink for the first time since WWII, according to the World Bank. Poor developing nations will be particularly hard hit with a shortfall of $270 billion to $700 billion, which will set them back by many years. Many of these nations are looking for help from the traditional donors in the West. But the West itself is preoccupied by its economic woes, with tent cities popping up all over the United States as home foreclosures rise.

According to the latest estimates of the World Bank, almost 40 percent of 107 developing countries are highly exposed to the poverty effects of the current economic crisis, less than 10 percent face little risk and the remainder are moderately exposed. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan are ranked among the 43 countries most exposed to poverty risks, raising the horrible specter of further political instability and dangerous social strife in a very important region of the world.

As one of the developing nations facing a serious economic crisis, Pakistan has received International Monetary Fund's commitment of $7.6 billion rescue package. But it needs more help. China refused cash aid to Pakistan during last month's China visit by President Asif Ali Zardari to seek financial assistance. At the time, many press reports inaccurately said that Zardari returned empty handed.

Instead of cash aid, the Chinese offered $450 million to Pakistan as suppliers’ credit for Neelum Jhelum Hydroelectric Project during Zardari's visit. China and Pakistan also signed specific agreements to help Pakistan on a number of other water and power development projects. Prior to these agreements, China has been helping Pakistan in many infrastructure projects such the Gwadar port and a number of nuclear power plants. Looking at how the Chinese are working with many developing nations in Asia and Africa, it appears to be an unwritten Chinese policy to offer trade and investment in projects rather than direct cash aid. Given the rampant government corruption in many developing nations, including Pakistan, the Chinese policy is a sound one. It attempts to benefit the people and the nation more than the corrupt politicians and government officials who they must deal with.

The Chinese government recognizes the crucial role it must play to lead the world out of the current economic crisis. Not only has it announced significant stimulus spending, it is also continuing to lend to the United States to help in America's recovery back to health. Together, the US and China have become the twin locomotives pulling the global economy. The combined behemoth of China and America has been labeled by Harvard business school professor Niall Ferguson as "Chimerica". Ferguson believes "we are living through a challenge to a phenomenon Moritz Schularick and I christened “Chimerica.” In this view, the most important thing to understand about the world economy over the past decade has been the relationship between China and America. If you think of it as one economy called Chimerica, that relationship accounts for around 13 percent of the world’s land surface, a quarter of its population, about a third of its gross domestic product, and somewhere over half of the global economic growth of the past six years."

Along with helping the US economy recover, China has a unique position and policy to help the developing world at the same time. Not only does the West have the white man's colonial baggage to contend with, the western view of Africa is one of wasted aid and growing poverty. This view holds that, if Africa generates any kind of growth, it is in suffering—and in the overseas aid sent to address that, now a $40-billion-a-year industry, according to Time Magazine. Naturally, with a new appeal every year and a new disaster every other, some people are feeling donor fatigue. They have begun to wonder if all that money is doing any good. They argue that aid creates dependence, fuels corruption, undermines democracy and stifles development in Africa and some of the poor underdeveloped nations in Asia and Latin America.

Learning from the western experience, the Chinese have sought to avoid fueling the culture of corruption and dependence by staying away from cash hand-outs. Instead, the trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year. Chinese engineers are working across the continent, mining copper in Zambia and cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo and tapping oil in Angola, according to Time. Nor is this merely exploitative. China bought its access by agreeing to create a new infrastructure for Africa, building roads, railways, hospitals and schools across the continent. The current economic crisis is not expected to affect China's march in Africa: on the contrary, with the West's plans in Africa on hold at best, Beijing views it as an opportunity to extend China's lead. "We will continue to have a vigorous aid program here, and Chinese companies will continue to invest as much as possible," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in South Africa in January. "It is a win-win solution." Dambisa Moyo, who wrote Dead Aid, says those who need convincing about Africa should ask themselves if they are convinced about China, "because if you back China, you're backing Africa." Ecobank CEO Ekpe says part of the explanation for China's zeal for Africa is a new way of looking at Africans. "[The Chinese] are not setting out to do good," he says. "They are setting out to do business. It's actually much less demeaning."

Clearly, the Chinese objectives are not entirely altruistic. Their strategy is driven by enlightened self-interest in the developing world, which they see as source of commodities that their industries need as well as growing export market for their products and services. But the Chinese want to do good and do well at the same time by helping to lift people out of poverty in the developing world. By doing so, they want to be seen as friends and partners by the people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The strategy enhances China's status as the new superpower that takes its global leadership role seriously.

Can Chimerica Rescue World Economy?


Forget Chinindia, G7, or even G20. Consensus is growing that it's G2, the governments of China and the United States, that will lead the world out of the current global economic crisis.

The combined behemoth of China and America has been labeled by Harvard business school professor Niall Ferguson as "Chimerica". Ferguson believes "we are living through a challenge to a phenomenon Moritz Schularick and I christened “Chimerica.” In this view, the most important thing to understand about the world economy over the past decade has been the relationship between China and America. If you think of it as one economy called Chimerica, that relationship accounts for around 13 percent of the world’s land surface, a quarter of its population, about a third of its gross domestic product, and somewhere over half of the global economic growth of the past six years."

The Group of 20 finance ministers (G2) gathering this weekend in England are of various minds but the U.S. and Chinese governments agree that the top priority should be to pump more money into the world economy to boost global demand.

When ranked by their purchasing power, the United States and China are the largest economies in the world, and the ties between them arguably make theirs the single most important economic relationship in the world today. For both governments, the global financial crisis has served to remind them of their deep interdependence.

For at least a decade or more, Chinese savers have funded about $2.0 trillion dollar spending spree by American government, businesses and consumers. While American savings have declined from above 5 percent of the GDP in the mid 1990s to virtually zero by 2005, the Chinese savings rate has surged from below 30 percent to nearly 45 percent of its GDP. This divergence in saving patterns has fueled a tremendous explosion of debt in the United States, for one effect of the Asian “savings glut” was to make it much cheaper for households to borrow money at lower interest rates than would otherwise have been the case. At the same time, low-cost Chinese labor helped hold down inflation.

Other foreign lenders of over $100b to US treasury include Japan, Oil-rich Persian Gulf nations, UK, Brazil and Russia. By comparison, India owns about $30b of US bonds.

In addition to the three trillion dollar investment in US treasuries, Asian, European and Middle Eastern nations have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into US stocks and bonds which have suffered deep losses and caused great disappointment during the recent Wall Street collapse. The losses have been so traumatic that it will be very hard to restore the confidence of these overseas investors in US financial markets for a long time.

The Chinese are now expressing concerns about the safety of the funds they have provided to the United States. "Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried," Wen said at a news conference after the closing of China's annual legislative session. "I would like to call on the United States to honor its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets." The U.S. is just as concerned about the potential consequences of its massive dependence on Chinese savings and possible use of the "nuclear option" by the Chinese.


While both the U.S. and China are genuinely concerned about such strong interdependence, neither is in a position right now to do much about it in the middle of a major global economic crisis. China invests in U.S. dollars for lack of a safer alternative. It could spend more at home, boosting imports and cutting back more on exports. But in a time of shrinking employment in China, such a move would be politically risky.

Both nations are taking their responsibilities seriously to rescue each other and the world from the worsening world economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. and Chinese governments are devoting a larger share of their economies to stimulus programs than any of the other major G-20 countries, and they are together urging other governments to follow their example.

Related Links:

Is This the End of American Capitalism?

US, China United on Approach to Economy

What Chimerica Hath Wrought?

US Federal Budget and National Debt

China's "Nuclear Option"

The Formula That Wrecked World Economy

List of Foreign Lenders to America

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pakistan's Banking and Insurance Sector


Pakistan's financial system has been ranked 34 out of 52 countries in the World Economic Forum's first Financial Development Report, which was released in Pakistan through the Competitiveness Support Fund (CSF) in December, 2008.

A financial system is a structure that channels funds from savers/investors to those who require funds for building infrastructure, starting and running businesses, building or improving houses, consumer financing of big-ticket items like automobiles, etc. Financial systems are crucial for the allocation of resources in a modern economy. Currently, Pakistanis save about 15% of the GDP to provide a pool for domestic investments from private savings, which amount to nearly $ 25 billion a year. In addition, Pakistani expatriates remit nearly $ 8 billion a year that flow into Pakistan's economy through the banking sector.

The WEF report is a comprehensive analysis of financial systems and capital markets in 52 countries that explores key drivers of financial system development and economic growth in developing and developed countries and serves as a tool by which countries can benchmark themselves and establish priorities for financial system improvement.

Arthur Bayhan, Chief Executive of the Competitiveness Support, told the media: "I am very happy to see that financial system in Pakistan is well reformed and competitive vis-à-vis Asia and Europe. Pakistan is ranked ahead of the Russian Federation (35), Indonesia (38), Turkey (39), Poland (41), Brazil (40), Philippines (48) and Kazakhstan (45)."

The United States narrowly edged the United Kingdom to take the top position in the Financial Development Index. The United Kingdom was second while China ranked 24 and India 31.

The Financial Development Index is based on three main pillars - Factors, Policies and Institutions, Financial Intermediation and Capital Availability and Access. These are further divided into sub - pillars.

Under Factors, Policies and Institutions pillar, Pakistan ranks 49th in institutional environment, 50th in business environment and 37th in Financial Stability. In the Financial Intermediation Pillar Pakistan ranks 25th in banks, 42nd in non banks and 17th in Financial Markets. Under Capital Availability and Access, Pakistan ranks 33rd.

Indicators showed that in business environment Pakistan had development advantage in Cost to Export, ranking 6th, Cost of closing business 5th.

In Financial Stability Change in Real Effective Exchange rate ranked 20th, External debt to GDP 10th, Frequency of banking crises 1st, stability index 15th.

In corporate governance Pakistan ranked at the very top in shareholder rights index, 14th in strength of investor protection.

In the Non banks pillar, Pakistan ranked 9th in the Real growth of direct insurance premiums. In equity market movement Pakistan ranked at the top again in equity market turnover.

Importance of Financial Services Sector:

Banks are often described as a nation's economic engine, in part because they provide financial intermediation functions between savers/investors who are looking for safety and growth and consumers/businesses who are looking for access to credit and capital.Banks also play a major role as instruments of the government's monetary policy aimed at regulating interest rates and money supply in the economy. The current economic crisis in the United States and Europe, marked by the ongoing weakness of major banks and the resulting credit and capital crunch, underlines the critical importance of the banking sector in national and global economies. Recognizing the crucial importance of the financial sector in global economic recovery, the Obama administration is allocating the bulk of the stimulus money to restore the health of major U.S. banks.

Banking in Pakistan:

In Pakistan, the total banking sector serves around 6 million borrowers and 25 million depositors, implying a penetration rate of 3.6 percent and 15 percent respectively. In terms of access to microfinance, which means the availability of small loans, micro deposits and micro-insurance services to low income households, the current penetration rate is only 10 percent. In other words, 85 percent of Pakistan's population does not have access to any regulated financial services institutions at all, which inherently creates an uneven and an inequitable economic world, where the majority of people are financially marginalized. This situation drives the poor to rely on informal sources of funding like the unscrupulous moneylender, where the calculus of the relationship works to the detriment of the borrower. Well regulated banking and microfinance sectors are, therefore, absolutely necessary to give hope to the poor in breaking the vicious cycle of dependence and poverty.

Between 2002 and 2007, Pakistan's accelerated economic growth was underpinned by a strong banking sector. Classified as Pakistan’s and region’s best performing sector, the banking industry’s assets rose to over $60 billion, its profitability remains high, non-performing loans (NPLs) are low, credit is fairly diversified and bank-wide system risks are well-contained. Almost 81% of banking assets are in private hands. Likewise, the present foreign stake comes to 47% of total paid-up capital of all the financial institutions regulated by Pakistan's central bank, the State Bank of Pakistan.

In 2008, Pakistan's Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) was ranked by Asia Money as the most profitable bank in Asia with 32.5% return on equity (ROE). Other Pakistani banks ranked in the top 10 included Allied Bank ranked fourth with 29% ROE and United Bank ranked 6th with 24.8% ROE.

Pakistan's foreign reserves hit a record high of $16.5 billion in October 2007 but fell to $6.6 billion in November, largely because of a soaring import bill. As the commodity prices rose and inflation in Pakistan reached near 25%, the State Bank of Pakistan was forced to raise its discount rates to as high as 15%. However, there has been a dramatic decline in the cost of imports such as oil during the last few months, spelling relief for Pakistan and other non-OPEC developing nations. The price of oil has dropped to about a quarter of what it was last summer.

Pakistan signed a $7.6 billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund in November to stave off a balance of payments crisis. It received its first tranche of $3.1 billion that month. In its first assessment since November, IMF has expressed satisfaction with Pakistan's progress. “Initial developments under the program have been positive,” IMF spokesman David Hawley told a regular news briefing, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. “The foreign exchange rate has appreciated somewhat and preliminary information suggests that end-December targets for net international reserves and net domestic assets at the State Bank of Pakistan were met,” he added.

Pakistan's economy deteriorated sharply over the course of 2008, as inflation surged, and the current account deficits jumped on the back of rising oil and food prices, according to a World Bank report.

The report titled ‘Global Economic Prospects 2009’ says political turmoil and ongoing security concerns have also taken a toll on Pakistan’s economy, while the global financial crisis added substantial downward pressures on its financial markets. Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund agreed to lower the target for the gross domestic growth this fiscal year to 2.5 per cent from 3.5 per cent but many analysts said even achieving this target would be very ambitious.

The general deterioration in regional trade balances has been offset by large remittance inflows, which represent a sizable, and generally increasing share of GDP: during 2007, 14 per cent in Nepal, 8 per cent in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, 4 per cent in Pakistan, and 3 per cent in India.

Given strong underlying growth dynamics in South Asia, the negative feedback effects of the global financial crisis are expected to be temporary. A relatively rapid rebound is expected in 2010, with a projected revival of GDP growth to 7.2 per cent.

During 2001-2007, former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, a banker by training and extensive experience in New York, understood the role of banking, finance, investment and consumer credit in economic growth of a nation. He focused on building strong banking, investment and finance sectors in Pakistan to underpin its economy. He strengthened capital availability, an essential and increasingly important economic input, in addition to labor and land improvements. With higher education budget up 15-fold and overall education spending up 36% in two years, he focused on education to improve the availability of skilled labor to fill new jobs. He pushed land development and public and private construction spending to improve infrastructure and facilities to attract greater business investment and create jobs. Mr. Aziz was largely successful in his efforts.

In general, there are primarily two types of banks in Pakistan: Commercial Banks and Investment Banks. Both types of banks provide financial services essential for Pakistan's economy to function and grow.

Commercial Banks:

Commercial Banks are privately-owned institutions that, generally, accept deposits and make loans. Deposits are money people entrust to an institution with the understanding that they can get it back at any time or at an agreed-upon future date. A loan is money let out to a borrower to be generally paid back with interest. This action of taking deposits and making loans is called financial intermediation. A bank's business, however, does not end there.

Most people and businesses pay their bills with bank checking accounts, placing banks at the center of our payments system. Banks are the major source of consumer loans -- loans for cars, houses, education -- as well as main lenders to businesses, especially small businesses. When banks are strong and the credit flows, it helps the overall economic growth. When banks are in crisis, the impact on business and consumers multiplies the weakness in the economy.

Following is an incomplete list of commercial banks in Pakistan:

* Allied Bank of Pakistan, Karachi
* Arif Habib Bank Limited, Karachi - (Formerly Arif Habib Rupali Bank)
* Askari Bank, Rawalpindi
* Atlas Bank, Karachi
* Bank AL Habib, Karachi
* Bank Alfalah, Karachi
* Crescent Commercial Bank, Karachi.
* Faysal Bank, Karachi www.faysalbank.com
* Habib Bank, Karachi
* Habib Metropolitan Bank, Karachi
* JS Bank
* KASB Bank, Karachi
* MCB Bank Limited (formerly Muslim Commercial Bank), Islamabad
* Mybank Limited, Karachi
* NIB Bank, Karachi
* PICIC Commercial Bank, Karachi
* Saudi Pak Non-Commercial Bank, Karachi
* Soneri Bank, Karachi
* Union Bank, Karachi - Standard Chartered Bank has acquired Union Bank
* United Bank, Karachi
* Bank Of Punjab, Lahore
* Citi bank,Islamabad
* Standard chartered Bank Ltd,Karachi
* ABN Amro Bank Ltd,Karachi Now merged in RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland)
* HSBC Ltd,Lahore


Investment Banks:

Investment banks provide four primary types of services: raising capital (private equity or public offerings of shares), advising in mergers and acquisitions, executing securities sales and trading, and performing general advisory services. Most of the major Wall Street firms are active in each of these categories. Smaller investment banks may specialize in two or three of these categories.

The list of investment banks in Pakistan includes the following:

* Al-Towfeek Investment Bank Limited
* Arif Habib Securities
* Invest Capital Investment Bank Limited
* Atlas Investment Bank Limited
* Crescent Investment Bank Limited
* Escorts Investment Bank Limited
* First Credit and Investment Bank Limited
* First International Investment Bank Limited
* Fidelity Investment Bank Limited
* Franklin Investment Bank Limited
* Islamic Investment Bank Limited
* Jahangir Siddiqui Investment Bank Limited
* AMZ Securities
* Orix Investment Bank (Pakistan) Limited
* Prudential Investment Bank Limited
* Trust Investment Bank Limited

Insurance Sector:

Pakistan's insurance sector is quite small, but it does serve its capital raising and investment purpose. The sector includes life insurance, property and casualty insurance and health insurance, as well as microinsurance offered by several microfinance companies and NGOs.

According to the Insurance Association of Pakistan (IAP), gross non-life premiums of business underwritten in Pakistan totaled Rs. 33.96bn (US$428mn) in 2008, a rise of 3% over the previous year. Net premium revenue increased by 10% to Rs. 22bn (US$264mn), while underwriting profits recovered from PKR600mn to PKR2bn (US$24mn). Net claims decreased by 3.5% to Rs. 13.8bn (US$166mn). However, the total assets of IAP members fell by Rs. 7bn to Rs. 92bn (US$1.1bn). This was due mainly to investment losses amid the dismal performance of both the Karachi stock market and the wider national economy. The number of people employed in the sector also fell, according to the IAP’s figures. In 2007 there were 3,540 insurance workers, but only 3,473 in 2008. The non-life sector remains fragmented, with fierce competition between the three larger companies and dozens of small insurers writing premiums of below Rs. 1mn per annum.

The overwhelmingly dominant player in the life sector remains the State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan (SLIC). Although it has been targeted for privatization by successive governments, SLIC remains in state hands. However, the government’s stand-by loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund might accelerate the process of disinvestment. SLIC’s results provide an accurate picture of the overall growth of the life sector in Pakistan.

The most significant feature of SLIC’s 2008 performance was a sharp upward movement in first year premium subscriptions. These increased by 34% to Rs. 5.16bn (US$61mn), a rapid acceleration from the decade-average growth rate. Renewals grew much less rapidly, at 16% to Rs. 13.4bn (US$160mn). The surge in interest for life insurance may reflect the dwindling prospects for personal security in Pakistan. This might conceivably mark an improvement in the hitherto dismal prospects for the life sector. As the publisher noted in their last report, life density remains extremely low despite efforts by SLIC to extend its operations into rural areas.

A number of non-profit and commercial microfinance players, including Agha Khan Microfinance, Acumen Fund and Munich Re, are promoting micoinsurance for the rural and urban poor in Pakistan. Such policies are offered to recipients of microloans to protect households that are climbing out of poverty from catastrophic losses such as the death of the breadwinner, severe or chronic illness, or loss of assets including livestock, crops or housing. These sorts of events can push poor or vulnerable households back into the depths of poverty.

Here are some of the key players in micoinsurance:

1. SAFWCO Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization
2. DAMEN Development Action for Mobilization and Emancipation (DAMEN)
3. TRDP Thardeep Rural Development Prigram
4. PRSP Punjab Rural Support Program
5. NRSP National Rural Support Programme
6. SUNGI Sungi Development Foundation
7. KASHF Kashf Foundation


Finance Expo 2009:

Finance Expo Pakistan 2009 Exhibition was held last week in Karachi to showcase the most competent, dynamically growing and innovative companies that demonstrate the latest financial systems and methods stimulating the development of the banking and finance industry.

The Expo was an opportunity to network with decision makers, economists and experts of Banks, Takaful, Modaraba, Insurance Companies, Asset Management Companies, Stock Exchanges, Security Companies, Financial Education Institutes, & Leasing Companies and also of the fast growing industries like IT & Telecom, Oil & Gas, Alternative Energy & Power Industries, Agriculture, Pharma, Textile, Builders & Developers, Auto as well as Media.

The event is a platform for banking and financial institutions to come together and share ideas and the challenges presented to this rapidly growing industry.

The exhibition and conference highlighted the value that banking, financial institutions and other revenue generating industries bring to boost the economy of Pakistan. Moreover, the Event presents opportunities for displaying products, services and solutions towards the potential buyers.

Summary:

In spite of the international economic crisis, continuing political turmoil and rising militancy in Pakistan, the financial services sector has held up fairly well in the last year. Its future, however, remains tied to a measure political stability in the country that allows economic activity to occur unhindered. Let's hope the nation's political and ruling elites can find a peaceful way forward with competent team to lead the nation's business and economy.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Banks Thrive amid Pakistan Prosperity

Introduction to Banking and Economy

Introduction to Investment Banking

Comparing Bank Lending in India and Pakistan

Pakistan's Banking Reform

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mathematician's Formula Wrecked Global Economy


Not unlike Albert Einstein whose equation E=MC2 made possible the creation of physical weapons of mass destruction, Chinese mathematician David X. Li could go down in history as the man who enabled the development of financial weapons of mass destruction on Wall Street. Li's Gaussian copula models for the pricing of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)are being blamed for the catastrophic losses leading to the global financial collapse.

In addition to underlying bonds, bond investors also invest in pools of hundreds or even thousands of mortgages. The sums involved are mind boggling: Americans now owe more than $11 trillion on their homes, according to Wired Magazine. But mortgage pools are not as simple as most bonds. There's no guaranteed interest rate, since the amount of money homeowners collectively pay back every month is a function of how many have refinanced and how many have defaulted. There's certainly no fixed maturity date: Money shows up in irregular chunks as people pay down their mortgages at unpredictable times—for instance, when they decide to sell their house. And most problematic, there's no easy way to assign a single probability to the chance of default. Al of this makes it much more difficult to calculate risk on mortgage pools and CDOs than on conventional bonds or old-fashioned home loans.

Wall Street "solved" many of these problems through a process called tranching, which divides a pool and allows for the creation of safe bonds with a risk-free triple-A credit rating. Investors in the first tranche, or slice, are first in line to be paid off. Those next in line might get only a double-A credit rating on their tranche of bonds but will be able to charge a higher interest rate for bearing the slightly higher chance of default. And so on.

David Li simplified the risk models further by using market data of credit default swaps on underlying debt, including pools of disparate mortgages, as convenient proxy for the probability of default on various tranches the CDOs. Almost all of CDS market data, however, was accumulated during a period of rising real estate values and fairly robust job markets, when defaults were rare.

What are credit default swaps? Credit-default swaps are an indicator of the cost of bond "insurance" that varies with the risk of bond default. Credit default swaps are privately traded derivative contracts traditionally bought by bond holders from CDS issuers like AIG, Ambac, FGIC, and MBIA and other entities. Like other derivatives, CDS are not regulated by government agencies. Any investor can sell CDSs. The CDS sellers are expected (not guaranteed or back-stopped by governments) to reimburse bondholders or buyers in case the bond issuing companies or governments default.

As an investor, you have a choice: You can either lend directly to borrowers or sell investors credit default swaps, insurance against those same borrowers defaulting. In either case, you get a regular income stream—interest payments or insurance premiums —and either way, if the borrower defaults, you lose a lot of money. The returns on both strategies are nearly identical, but because an unlimited number of credit default swaps can be sold against each borrower, the supply of swaps isn't limited the way the supply of bonds is, so the CDS market managed to grow very raidly. Though credit default swaps were relatively new when Li proposed his idea, they soon became a bigger and more liquid market than the underlying bonds on which they were based.

The growth of the CDO market was exponential. Using Li's formula, Wall Street's quants saw a new range of possibilities. And the first thing they did was start creating a huge number of brand-new triple-A securities. Using Li's copula approach meant that ratings agencies like Moody's—or anybody wanting to model the risk of a tranche—no longer needed to puzzle over the quality of mortgages of various kinds that also proliferated. All they needed was that correlation number based on CDS data, and out would come a rating telling them how safe or risky the tranche was.

The CDS and CDO markets grew along similar trajectories, drawing strength from each other. At the end of 2001, there was $920 billion in credit default swaps outstanding. By the end of 2007, that number had skyrocketed to more than $62 trillion. The CDO market, which stood at $275 billion in 2000, grew to $4.7 trillion by 2006.

It all worked well until the housing market and job markets began to weaken, causing a wave of defaults, beginning with the less creditworthy borrowers. The CDS markets started to behave erratically out of fear. And the CDS data accumulated during the good times no longer served as a useful proxy for the actual risk of various trances of mortgage pools. Even the AAA rated tranches were hit by defaults, because some them contained subprime mortgages.

There were several people, including experts such as Darrell Duffie, Paul Wilmott and Janet Tavakoli, who warned about the dangers of blindly using Li's copula function as a basis for assessing risk of default for CDOs. But the greedy Wall Street executives and money managers, who were making enormous profits from such derivatives, ignored such warnings. And the politicians didn't care because they were receiving their share of the profits as Wall Street contributed large amounts of money to their campaign coffers.

The CDOs, based on Li's Copula function and created and traded on Wall street, now account for most of the toxic assets that have turned shares of major banks like Citicorp into penny stocks. The insolvent troubled banks are now receiving hundreds of billions of dollars from taxpayer funded bailouts orchestrated by the US treasury. The ongoing credit crunch and the wave of home foreclosures show no signs of abating. The negative effects of the US woes are being felt around the world. With globalization of the financial markets and trade, the rest of of the world is not immune from America's economic crisis.

Here's a video titled "The Formula That Wrecked the Economy":



Related Links:

Recipe for Disaster

Will American Capitalism Survive?

K Street Booms as Main Street Suffers

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pakistan Tops SMS Growth


With cellular phone penetration exceeding 50%, the Pakistan mobile market is continuing to experience rapid subscriber growth with thousands of customers signing up every month. The growth in subscriber rate has consequently led way to triple digit growth in messaging traffic over last year, according to Acision, a major international player in the mobile messaging business.

A total of 6.37 billion text messages were sent through Acision messaging systems across Asia Pacific over the 2008/2009 Christmas and New Year period. The top five countries with the highest SMS traffic processed over the festive season were the Philippines, again leading the ranking with 2.36 billion messages, closely followed by Indonesia (1.193 billion), Malaysia (1.075 billion) and Pakistan (763 million), according to the PC World.

While Pakistan ranks fourth in the total number of text messages sent during Christmas-New Year season of 2008-2009, the country tops the list with 253% annual growth in traffic volume, followed by Philippines (65 percent), Australia (57 percent), Indonesia (27 percent) and Malaysia (13 percent).

The dramatic SMS growth is good news for mobile operators in Pakistan. Most operators around the world continue to rely on text messaging as a critical source of data revenues. A recent report published by Pyramid Research says that mobile data will account for 29 percent of the global mobile service revenue in 2012, up from 19 percent in 2007. Clearly, the mobile data opportunity is soaring: the 2007 mobile data revenue was more than double what it was in 2004, and Pyramid Research expects it to double again to $300 billion by 2012.

SMS will continue to generate the highest share of global mobile data revenue through 2012 and will make a larger impact in emerging markets. However, SMS revenue as a percentage of mobile data revenue will decline throughout the forecast period, as other data services - made possible by the rollout of next generation networks - gain further traction.

In addition to continuing growth in traditional cellular messaging and infrastructure, Pakistan is going through a major roll-out of WiMax by several mobile operators. According to Fierce Broadband Wireless, the largest mobile WiMAX deployments reported during first-quarter 2008 were from Korea Telecom with nearly 150,000 subscribers and Wateen Telecom (Pakistan) with more than 10,000 subscribers at the end of that quarter. Wateen is today the largest mobile WiMAX Motorola deployment. In June 2006, Wateen placed an order for 198,000 CPEs from Motorola. Motorola has shipped 60,000 CPEs so far. Wateen has told Fierce that they had 25,000 subscribers by the end of June 2008. The operator expects to complete the order of 198,000 CPEs by this year. It is expected that the gap between mobile "16e" deployments and "16d" will narrow once trials of 16e equipment are complete and certified equipment becomes widely available.

In emerging markets, 3G and WiMAX will provide Internet connectivity to many consumers for the first time, partly due to a lack of viable fixed alternatives. Asia-Pacific will generate the highest mobile data revenue throughout the forecast period till 2012, and Africa and the Middle East will grow the fastest, according to Pyramid.

Related Links:

Mobile Data Revenue Growth

Pakistan Broadband Overview

Broadband Internet Access in Pakistan

WiMax in Pakistani Cities

WiMax Launch in Pakistan

Mobile Internet

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Google and Intel Boost Mobile Internet

ITU ICT Development Index

WiMax Continues to Evolve in Pakistan

Motorola to Deploy Mobilink WiMax in Pakistan

WiMax's Last Best Hope

Monday, March 2, 2009

Poll Finds American Muslims Doing Well

Not only is Islam the fastest growing of the monotheistic religions in America, Asian-American Muslims (from countries like India and Pakistan, constituting the third largest ethnic group, after African-Americans and Whites) have more income and education and are more likely to be thriving than other American Muslims. In fact, their quality of life indicators are higher than for most other Americans, except for American Jews, according to a recent Gallup poll in US. The only countries where Muslims are more likely to see themselves as thriving are Saudi Arabia and Germany, according to the poll. For example, 41% of American Muslims say they are thriving, as compared to 51% of Saudis, 47% of German Muslims and only 11% of Pakistanis. Among the prominent Muslim nations surveyed by Gallup, Pakistanis are among the most dissatisfied in their home country, with 44% reporting they are struggling and 45% saying they are suffering. In sharp contrast to Pakistanis, Bangladeshis report higher levels of satisfaction, with 17% thriving and only 8% saying they are suffering. In spite of the high Muslim political representation in Britain, only 7% British Muslims say they are thriving, lower than the 11% in Pakistan. South Asian results appear to correlate well with the world happiness index ranking that shows Bangladesh ahead of both India and Pakistan in terms of happiness.


Gallup researchers say that the satisfaction figure in the US is pulled down by the fact that 35% of American Muslims are African Americans, and they generally report lower levels of income, education, employment and well-being than other Americans.

“We discovered how diverse Muslim Americans are,” said Dalia Mogahed, executive director and senior analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, which financed the poll. “Ethnically, politically and economically, they are in every way a cross-section of the nation. They are the only religious community without a majority race.”

American Muslim women, contrary to stereotype, are more likely than American Muslim men to have college and post-graduate degrees. They are more highly educated than women in every other religious group except Jews. American Muslim women also report incomes more nearly equal to men, compared with women and men of other faiths.

The survey notes that Muslim-Americans do not participate in the political process as much as Americans of other faiths. Lower percentages of Muslims register to vote or volunteer their time than adherents of other faiths. They are less likely to be satisfied with the area where they live. These indicators are “worrying,” said Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst at the Muslim studies center.

Overall, the survey paints a picture of Muslims in America, particularly immigrants and first-generation Americans, as far more integrated in the mainstream society than their counterparts in Europe.

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